By: Ariella Silverstein
Funny Girl, a musical drama, presents a story of a young woman, Fanny Brice who is starting her career on the Broadway stage in New York City. Fanny, played by Barbra Streisand, is portrayed as an eccentric, vibrant, and strong-minded woman who will not stop until she achieves what she has set her mind out to do. As discussed in The Way She is: Barbra Streisand’s Career, “Funny Girl is the story of how a little Jewish girl from the Lower East Side in awe of Broadway glamor made herself the most glamorous star of all…” (Vineberg) Funny Girl reveals the struggle to stardom for a woman and shows how difficult it can be let alone as a woman, but as a Jewish woman who does not have the typical Broadway type features. Thus, throughout the Musical, Fanny faced a lot of criticism both on and off stage, including that she was too Brooklyn, too Broadway, too Jewish, too special, too eccentric and too unattractive. This criticism caused her to be extremely hesitant at first in taking the stage. In one of her first numbers on stage, ‘I’d Rather Be Blue’, it can be seen how she starts off hiding her face, not very comfortable in her own skin, while singing very softly and in a reserved manner. She eventually seems much more comfortable on the stage when she realizes that she can be her funny, quirky self and that people receive that well.
Streisand was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1942 with a strong and influential Jewish upbringing due her grandfather being a cantor as well as her father being very religious. She attended a jewish day school, Yeshiva University for a few years before transferring to Erasmus High School. However, despite this upbringing, Streisand did not consider herself to be religious in the slightest way. Nevertheless, she was still an influencer for many Jewish actresses to come despite her personal relationship and feelings towards religion. This ties to today’s times where many people identify as being culturally Jewish but not completely religious. Streisand is quoted discussing her Jewishness as a cultural phenomenon rather than a solely religious entity which is an extremely prevalent mindset both then and in today’s day and age.St reisand faced many struggles in her coming to fame while she was pursuing her career in Manhattan. She was often told that she was not pretty enough or was “too special”.
Critics and fans alike agree that Barbra Streisand was the perfect woman to be cast as Fanny Brice. They are both unapologetically themselves no matter where they are. Like Fanny, Barbra received much criticism towards her looks, personality, style, and how she presented herself both on and off stage. Funny Girl came out in 1968 when civil rights were being challenged as well as women’s rights. Funny Girl as well as Barbra Streisand worked hard to challenge many common practices for women at the time. The song in Funny Girl entitled “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty”, delves into just that. Both Barbra and the character of Fanny Brice were deemed not pretty enough to be in a chorus line, on stage, or any theatrical place. In the article Stars by Gary Carey, he discusses how Streisand’s personal and professional life bore many similarities to those of Fanny Brice. “ Miss Streisand, like Fanny Brice in her time, has had much play with her ugly-duckling image. Streisand, however-and this was also true of Miss Brice-may be basically sort of ugly, but she is endowed with innate elegance and has acquired an imposing chic that has made her, if not beautiful, a handsome woman.” (Carey)
Like many Jewish stars at the time, Streisand fought Jewish stereotypes of all kind. In the Journal entitled “Cutting Off Your nose to Spite Your Race”: Jewish Stereotypes, Media Images, Cultural Hybridity, Bernice Schrank discusses how these stereotypes affected women in the spotlight of stardom. He discusses how nose jobs had become so standardized in Hollywood both in Jewish and non-Jewish actresses. He believes that by blending in with the culture and standards of how women were told to look, Jewish women had their Jewish identities erased. However, unlike most Jewish women on Broadway at the time, Streisand never got a nose job. “The Streisand nose epitomizes the stereotype, yet Streisand has never felt the need to deconstruct her ethnicity. Indeed, her theatrical and film persona depends on it.” (shrank 36) However, unlike Jewish women who did not get a nose job like Streisand, did not get a nose job and were stuck throughout their entire career being cast under strictly Jewish roles, Streisand stood out. Schrank compares Barbra Streisand to Fanny Brice, who did get a nose job, and how getting one did not necessarily make her rise to stardom quicker, easier, or more successful than Streisand. “Streisand’s Jewish roles show a range that Brice’s never did. Nor has Streisand been limited to Jewish roles.” (Schrank 36) This shows how Streisand standing her ground and not getting the nose job that many producers, directors and colleagues urged her to, actually worked in her favor and became a part of who she is and what she stands for. “Notwithstanding, Streisand is able plausibly to stretch ethnic boundaries to fit the contours of her secular, non-Jewish women roles” (Schrank 37)
Streisand has always been known for being one of the few Jewish stars who refused a nose job. In an article from The Times of Israel, they discuss how Streisand was often put down and told that her nose would a downfall in her career. “Streisand was told she had no hope of succeeding in Hollywood unless she had a nose job.” However, despite the critics, producers, and stigmas standing in her way, Streisand prevailed. “Streisand skillfully turned the stigma of her awkward looks and “Jewish” appearance into a powerful message of acceptance, making her a voice for the marginalized that defined her career that has spanned six decades”. The Times of Israel discusses how rather than allowing the physical features that she was born with hold her back, she embraced them and allowed her to be a symbol of change in the societal and cultural norms that existed in Hollywood. Not all women who were bullied for how they looked or how they acted would be strong enough to push past all of the hate and make their dreams come true. Streisand showed strength, courage, and perseverance by letting the criticism fuel her fire, rather than bring her down. “Yet that tough upbringing only fueled her desire to leave the borough and make it big in Hollywood, she said.” In an interview posted below, Streisand discusses her reasons for not getting a nose job, and how that decision ultimately affected her.
Streisand’s struggles as a Jewish woman in the entertainment business reached far beyond her Jewish looking nose. As Stacy Wolf discusses in her article Barbra’s ‘Funny Girl’ Body, Streisand had to overcome many critics that disliked her jewishness. “Her marked portrayal of Jewishness in body (her nose), voice (frequent yiddishisms), and behavior (aggressiveness) run counter to the ideal of “The Feminine” in American culture.” (Wolf) She goes on to discuss how these Jewish features and character traits, although hindered her at first, eventually helped her define herself in the world of Broadway and pave the path for an infinite number of Jewish stars to come. “Streisand, as a singer, stage actor, film actor, director, and “person” redefines the very meaning of celebrity and produces a new category of representation of Jewish women that is, simply, complexly, tautologically “Barbra.””. (Wolf)
Both Streisand showed her true colors and allowed herself to shine by playing the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. From her first moments on stage saying “hello gorgeous?” into a mirror, throughout the entire production, she presented herself with grace and poise, making her a true star. Streisand has and continues to be an inspiration for Jewish woman across the world, whether they are performers, peers, or just Jewish children growing up and struggling to fit in and find their place.
Vineberg, Steve. “The Way She Is: Barbra Streisand’s Career.” The Threepenny Review, no. 31, 1987, pp. 12–15. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4383592.
Schrank, Bernice. “‘Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Race’: Jewish Stereotypes, Media Images, Cultural Hybridity.” Shofar, vol. 25, no. 4, 2007, pp. 18–42. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42944413.
Boyarin, Daniel, et al., editors. Queer Theory and the Jewish Question. Columbia University Press, 2003. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/boya11374
Carey, Gary. “Stars.” Members Newsletter (Museum of Modern Art), no. 2, 1968, pp. 9–10. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4380543.